Diary of an IBD intern: Intern interest in banking careers is actually quite low

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This week was so quiet for so long, and then it all blew up. It began as the last ended, with a few early finishes and quiet days. When you don’t have any work to do, the onus is on you to go around the team to see if there’s any that you can get involved in. At first, nobody gives you anything – they just take note of the fact you’re available and keep you in mind. So you go around again and again ask if there’s any work. This time everybody realises that you really must have nothing to do and they dump a tonne of little bits of work on you – just as you’re starting to look forward to a weekend off.

My week ended with late nights on Thursday, Friday and work on both Saturday and Sunday. Having so much to do suddenly hit me by surprise: I got used to the slower pace of the last couple of weeks remarkably quickly. It has become clear that it’s extremely important to be flexible and agile, both in terms of aptitude and lifestyle, to cope with working in a bank. It’s impossible to plan social engagements in advance – you’re completely forced to make your schedule up as you go along!

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This week I’ve been kicking myself for repeating silly mistakes. It’s a combination of fatigue, pressure and, to be honest, a slightly slapdash attitude I’m carrying over from uni. An intern’s work will always be checked before going into a pitchbook and I’ve got used to using that as a safety net, almost as if it were designed to catch my errors. As soon as I finish a piece of university work, I send it off without checking it properly as well, and I’ve been doing the same on my internship. I got a bit of a telling off for this earlier in the week – nobody should ever need to catch your errors. Work with errors just shouldn’t be passed on in the first place. And you get the impression that you don’t get too many second chances to prove yourself as an intern within an IBD.

For me, the two career options I’ve always considered have been investment banking first and management consultancy second. Where I see my different career options and why I’ve chosen banking is something I’ve actually been asked about multiple times by different employees on the internship – the interview-type questions don’t get left inside the interview room as you may hope! Being constantly asked to justify myself is making me veer away from banking and towards consultancy week-by-week, for several reasons.

First of all, I would like more creative freedom. For analysts within a bank there is very little scope for any thinking. Apart from perhaps deciding how to layout and develop a model, you are told exactly which figures to create and you are told how to present them. Creativity is therefore very one-dimensional and restricted. You need to reach the position of associate at least before you can start influencing not just what but how things get done.

Secondly, I like to meet people. It’s incredibly rare for banking juniors to meet a client and, even when they do, to actually get involved in anything. Client interaction is all handled above. Third, the office can become a little monotonous; getting out more often would be good. Fourth, I prefer getting stuck into more substantial projects. Again, the work, especially at the bottom of an investment bank, is not glamorous. From spending hours searching through annual reports to writing transcripts for client calls, for three years in IBD the reality is that you’ll spend only a fraction of your time modelling and doing real analysis – the rest of the time will be spent doing more menial tasks.

Fifth, consultants will generally have better working hours, of course depending on travel, but even still, more flexibility to do things like work from home. Confidentiality and the expense of proprietary software makes this pretty difficult in a bank – you have to be in the office to work. And sixth, consultants will likely have more varied exit options. And that’s where the main consideration for most bankers lies.

Getting to know M&A bankers, it’s become apparent that looking more than a year ahead into my career is pointless. The attrition rate within banks is incredibly high. Unless you absolutely love the job, it’s expected to be difficult to last long – anything more than two years. There are a lot of outside opportunities for investment bankers, mostly towards other financial services jobs – even in the current jobs market. I even received a call myself this week from a head hunter!

Not everybody on the summer internship programme is as committed to working in investment banking as you may expect for such a competitive programme. It seems that only about half are absolutely set on the industry, whilst the other half still consider it more as an option.

Undoubtedly, senior staff, teams and HR are all aware of this – that’s why they’re investing so much into us as interns with time, training and money. And it works: the vast majority of interns will want to come back, most likely myself included, even with any reservations they may have. Even though I don’t necessarily feel as comfortable within the industry as I expected to, I’m certainly not giving up on it yet. I really like the people I’ve met at the bank and the bank’s culture. The pay’s not bad too. All I have to figure out is whether I’m patient and determined enough to ride through the first few years in order to reach the more fulfilling opportunities it offers to senior bankers.

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